Thursday, April 5, 2012

Students orgs struggle to attract event attendance

Originally published in The Mac Weekly.

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With 116 student organizations, Macalester is known for its engaged student body. However, the number of student organizations may be creating a problem—too many events.

The problem is made all the more pressing by the onset of April, a month known at Macalester for its number of student organization events. The College Events Calendar lists 27 separate events this month.

“All of the events going on are good,” said Natalie Pavlatos ’12, the Chair of the Student Organizations Committee (SOC) of MCSG. “I think the bigger problem stems from coordination and planning with other organizations to the point. You’ve got three events going on at the same time and it is physically impossible to go to all of them.”

Her likely successor blames a lack of communication.

“I think the real problem with event planning… is that people really just don’t know or don’t care to seek out what other organizations are doing,” said Jeff Garcia ’14, an officer in several student organizations and the sole candidate on the ballot for SOC Chair next year. “They don’t communicate with each other. There are rivalries within these groups for resources. That’s not how it should be,” Garcia said.

It is difficult to quantify the scope of the problem.

“It’s funny we hear so much about all these well-run events, and you never really hear when an event goes awry,” Pavlatos noted. “We very rarely hear about it when they do because it’s kind of an embarrassment I think. No one wants to, when asked how your event went, say ‘No-one showed up’ or ‘This didn’t work,’ but having run orgs in the past I know there are going to be events where one person shows up, or two people show up, or just your friends.”

Students for a Free Tibet

Students for a Free Tibet Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) has faced exactly the situation Pavlatos described. The group, a student organization working to raise awareness of the challenges facing Tibet, hosted a documentary screening last November in John B Davis Lecture Hall. To advertise, the group largely relied upon table tents, according to Karina Li ’14, the group’s Co-Chair. About 10 people showed up, mostly members of SFT.

“We were hoping it would be better, but we really didn’t have a whole lot of [optimism],” Li said.

The group tried again a month later. They decided to bring Jigme Ugen, the President of the Tibetan Youth Congress of Minnesota, to campus. This time around, they expanded their advertising campaign. The group chalked the sidewalks, submitted to the Daily Piper, made a Facebook event, distributed posters, and prominently placed images of self-immolating Tibetan monks along the sidewalk between the Campus Center and the library. About 50 people showed up to that event, including students from neighboring schools and local community members.

One of the problems with the documentary screening was the timing, a Friday. In contrast, Ugen visited Macalester on a Wednesday night.

“Watching a movie on a Friday, it definitely wouldn’t be as much attendance, because people have other plans,” noted SFT member Rachel Karlov ’14.

Others believe that the type of event drives turnout. The group plans to shift away from documentary screenings in the future toward more engaging events like speakers.

“I think that now we might not bother with [screenings and] the movie rights anymore, because it’s just too much money,” noted Li.

Mac Christian Fellowship 

SFT is not the only group to have difficulties with documentary screenings. Mac Christian Fellowship (MCF), a religious student organization, has faced similar challenges.

Last Sunday the group hosted a documentary screening with 8 people in attendance. Most of those attending had helped plan the event.

“People aren’t going to show up to a documentary screening unless you’re already interest in it,” said Rebecca Boylan, an officer in MCF.

In contrast, the group organized a more successful event two weeks ago. Titled “Christians Apologize for Our Failures,” the event featured Christian students publicly apologizing for both individual failings and broader problems within the Christian faith. About thirty people attended, and the event sparked conversations afterwards, including an opinion piece in The Mac Weekly.

Boylan believes part of the reason the Christians Apologize event succeeded and the documentary screening faltered were differences in preparation. The screening only had table tents advertising it for one day before the event and a Facebook event two days before. In contrast, the Christians Apologize event utilized sandwich boards outside the Campus Center, posters, the Daily Piper and a Facebook event.

Scot Sync 

Both Pavlatos and Garcia believe Scot Sync is a useful tool to counter some of the problems facing events at Mac. However, Scot Sync is used by few organizations for anything besides budgeting each semester.

“If you use some of the utilities on Scot Sync, the College Events calendar, reservations, really a lot of these problems could be settled with foresight,” Pavlatos said.

“Along with signing up for email accounts and 1600 Grand, Scot Sync should be put out as a resource as one of the first things students are introduced to,” Garcia added. “It will hopefully get more students involved.”

Some org leaders are skeptical. Both SFT and MCF are planning future events. SFT will have a veteran activist in the Free Tibet movement speaking on campus in mid-April, while MCF is hosting a petting zoo this Saturday to raise awareness of and funds for Heifer International, a Christian charity. While both groups are mindful of other orgs’ programming, they do not plan to use Scot Sync for their respective events.

“I don’t know anyone that uses Scot Sync,” Boylan said. “It seems like a Facebook for orgs, but there’s [already] an actual Facebook.”

Still, Boylan does note that she would use Scot Sync if other student orgs and leaders within MCF began to use the tool.

“We would use Scot Sync if more people at Mac knew about it [and] knew how to use it,” Li added. “I think it will just take time for it to catch on. Right now it’s not very effective."

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